What happens if Trump withdraws from the Paris climate deal?

United States President Donald Trump has tweeted that he will this week announce whether America, the world’s second largest emitter, intends to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement inked by 195 signatories last year.


Online news site Axios has reported that three sources have said the president intends to follow through on campaign promises to “cancel” the agreement, having previously dismissed climate change as a hoax fabricated by the Chinese.

Experts told SBS World News that while a US withdrawal would be disappointing, it would not be catastrophic for the global agreement.

“I think that it’s going to survive because it’s got huge popular buy in,” said Olivia Kemba, Acting CEO of the Climate Institute.

“There’s been a huge effort by many powerful countries to make it work.”

Ms Kemba says the success of the agreement will depend entirely on how other countries respond to a potential US withdrawal.

“There is definitely strong support from Western Europe, but China has also said very clearly and very pointedly that they see this as an important agreement,” she said.

World Leaders celebrate the deal at the closing ceremony of COP21, Paris, 2015. United Nations Photo

The Paris agreement builds on the Kyoto framework, pushing countries to make voluntary, escalating emissions reduction commitments every five years.

Ms Kemba says that while there are concerns about copy-cat behaviour and other countries pulling out, there is still strong international support.

“Other countries signed up to this agreement because it was in their self-interest to do so – just because the United States pulled out doesn’t mean that it actually changes the calculus of what’s in their self-interest.”

Professor Rosemary Lyster, Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law, says the world has forged ahead without America before, and it can do so again.

“The United States was never a member of the Kyoto Protocol and yet negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continued even when President Bush tried to set up alternative forums to the multilateral negotiations,” she said.

“Other powerful nations such as the European Union and also China have played, and continue to play, leadership roles in the international arena – so the United States will be surrendering a leadership role.”


President Trump’s poor international image may bolster backers of the agreement, Ms Kemba said.

“President Trump is making it easy for other leaders to resist what he does,” she said.

“He’s created a dynamic where countries can say we’re not going to do what the US does, and that is actually a domestically popular position to take.”

The announcement on whether the United States is in or out comes after the president’s first international trip, returning last weekend after a frosty reception from European leaders.

The G7 issued a statement supporting the climate accord, but the United Sates was explicitly excluded.

“We have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the US will remain in the Paris accord or not,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said following the meeting in Sicily.

“The whole discussion on the topic of climate was very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory.”

Merkel comments on ‘controversial’ climate discussions

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French President Emmanuel Macron urged the United States to remain engaged, while earlier in the trip the Pope gifted President Trump a copy of his encyclical on the environment and climate change.

While world leaders failed to secure a commitment from President Trump over the Paris agreement, Ms Kemba says the president – who has championed a nationalist, ‘America first’ agenda – is paying closer attention to the domestic argument.

“The idea that if the G6 leaders had just been a little more smiley and friendly and fawning… that seems to me to be unlikely,” she said.

Foreign Policy has reported that inside the White House itself, divisions are clear.

Supporting the agreement are Trump’s daughter Ivanka, son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – opposed are White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

On the campaign last year President Trump slammed the agreement as a “bad deal” that dealt self-inflicted wounds to the US economy – as president his repeal of environmental regulations has been heralded as one of the few successes of his young presidency.

Ms Kemba says his position on the role of the government is clear.

”Whether he’s in or out, it seems he’s not interested in using the federal government to drive down emissions in the United States,” she said.

“With or without, the contribution of the United States is really going to come from state governments anyway, as well as commercial decisions and developments in technology.”


Ann Carlson, Professor of Environmental Law at UCLA Law School, says that at this point, the withdrawal may be the most honest outcome.

“Remaining in the Paris Agreement could allow Trump to appease his daughter and give him cover to appear to be more reasonable than his domestic environmental policies on the ground deserve,” she wrote in a recent article.

“It would definitely be met by largely favourable media and public reaction.”

Professor Lyster says that even if withdrawal destabilises global efforts or creates doubt about the need for action, the international momentum is still with those who support climate action.

“Overall there is a wide acceptance of the science of climate change – especially as extreme weather events, influenced by climate change, continue to wreak havoc around the world,” she said.

Ms Kemba says the main loser of withdrawal will be Americans, as they deal themselves out of international influence and potential boom in renewable energy technology.

“If the US goes slow or pulls out, it’s only hurting itself.”